Feb. 11 2015 01:05 AM

Why does everyone suddenly want to turn San Diego into an amusement park?

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What is it all of a sudden with all these proposals for amusement-park rides in downtown San Diego? First there was county Supervisor Ron Roberts' idea for an aerial gondola carting tourists from Downtown to Balboa Park, which we've dubbed The Aeriola™. Then came something far more disturbing: a series of proposals for enormous Ferris wheels or huge spires piercing the sky with gondola tracks snaking round and round and up and down, and it's all giving us a serious headache. 

Maybe we're a bunch of killjoys, and we hate fun things, but these ideas just come across as obnoxious and gaudy and kind of cheesy. Clearly, they're aimed at enhancing the tourist experience, not the resident experience, and they also seem to be attempts to create a legacy, particularly in the case of Roberts' Aeriola. 

Roberts' idea doesn't bug us that much, but it's neither terribly imaginative nor completely necessary. What bugs us a little is that $75,000 of public money is being used to conduct a feasibility study of the idea. That money had already been taken from the county's general fund and snuggled into Roberts' Neighborhood Reinvestment Program account, a sort of slush fund for supervisors to spend as they see fit. From there, it was transferred to SANDAG, the region's transportation agency, which hired a firm to do the study, which will be ready for public review in April or May. We'd have preferred that money be spent on beefing up social services for the needy, but that's just whistling in the wind, we realize. Alternative transportation is absolutely needed, but if that's the goal, we should investigate the most efficient ways to move people around rather than look only at one particular idea and one particular route. 

Now, if The Aeriola is goofy on a small scale, the Port of San Diego's consideration of unsolicited proposals for Ferris wheels and sky towers on the waterfront is goofy on a massive scale. A good place to go for some needed perspective on those ideas is Bob Nelson's Jan. 16 commentary in U-T San Diego. In it, Nelson, a member of the port's Board of Commissioners, says that a gigantic Ferris wheel might turn out to be a great idea, but he says the process is all wrong. And he's right. 

A handful of proposals have come to the port, unsolicited, while the agency, which is charged by state law with overseeing waterfront land use around San Diego Bay, is in the process of updating its long-term master plan. When large chunks of land are planned properly, approved uses are based on holistic blueprints of the area that have undergone robust public vetting. That way, individual projects conform to a broader scheme and make sense with one another. What you don't want is piecemeal approval of major projects that aren't necessarily consistent with the master plan that's not yet complete. 

Part of this story might be moot by the time this issue of CityBeat hits the streets. The Board of Commissioners was scheduled on Tuesday afternoon to listen to pitches from five private companies—four that want to build an "observation wheel" and one that wants to build a sky tower with a restaurant on top. Our hope is that commissioners will have sobered up and told the proponents that their ideas will be kept on file and reviewed later for compliance with the master plan. 

We're worried here that San Diego's public officials feel like they have to catch up to other cities like Seattle, New York and Orlando that have big wheels and tall towers—and, oh my god, San Diego doesn't have those things! We want those things! We need those things! 

In our opinion, San Diego's waterfront doesn't need an entertainment complex with a ginormous, observation wheel awash in neon light. It doesn't need inelegant tourist magnets. What the waterfront needs are parks and recreation amenities for residents. The tourists will be there no matter what. Yes, it's nice to have projects that will generate revenue, but making money should be a byproduct of making a beautiful, serene waterfront that locals want to enjoy and take pride in, rather than avoid because it's noisy, brash and overrun with tourists.


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